A Recap of Thailand (Part 2.5 of 4)

Days 8 to 11: Second half of Ko Tao

I had to split up Ko Tao into an extra post because there’s just too much to fit into one post! Continuing from part 2, my final advanced dive was the night dive which is by far one of my favourites. We left on the long-tail from shore at 6pm to get onto the dive boat when the sun was close to setting. We were shown the super powerful torch lights we would be using for the dive.

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View from the resort restaurant

We headed for white rock which was a dive site around one to three kilometres from shore. Night diving was absolutely amazing, it was like being a little bubble. Being surrounded by water, darkness and with nothing but our torches to push back the black. The visibility still wasn’t great but I was just excited to be diving at night. It was a whole new experience, being in total darkness with only the sound of your own breathing (in darth vader noises) and your attention being focused by the torches that cut through the blackness.

While we weren’t able to take cameras down for our open water course, as we were un-certified divers and didn’t have to ability to dive and film at the same time, I took my GoPro down for the advanced dives although the footage turned out to be really bad for the night dive. There wasn’t enough light for the sensor to pick up and it ended up being black and anything that was lit up was grainy. It was a bit of a struggle as well, managing the GoPro, torch and dive computer but all in good fun.

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Torch cutting through the darkness

I saw a couple of cool things like big groupers (1-3m long fish), hermit crabs the size of your fist slowly crawling across the floor and plenty of blue spotted stingrays (I think around 2 or 3 for the first night dive and then another 4 or so on my other night dive). Another cool thing we saw was photo-plankton, we dropped to the sea floor and placed the torch to our chests to completely descend into darkness. Waving our hands around like spastics, little green luminescent spots would materialize out of the water as the photo-plankton lit up which was mesmerizing and spellbinding to watch.

When we started ascending to the surface, the five of us pointed our torches to the surface to alert any boats of our presence. It was surreal as we broke the surface of the water to a blanket of stars above us when we had entered the water with the sun still up, albeit barely. We had a lovely swim back to the dive boat, an absolutely amazing experience that cannot be described with words.

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Advanced Adventurers! Canadians, German, Australian and our Scott instructor!

At night we collectively decided to try out the all you can eat pizza buffet on one of the restaurants on the main road of Ko Tao, after having passed it many times and eating almost exclusively at the Big Blue restaurant. While only 220THB, their definition of all you can eat was having a pizza made and then serving a slice to each person. Needless to say, service was slow and it was the first time I had ever seen carrot and corn on a pizza. I would advise to stay away from the large restaurants on the main street which often charge higher prices but not serve higher quality food. In a way this was to be our last supper with all of us together.

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“All you can eat” Pizza

Day six on Ko Tao had come around and I had finally completed my advanced adventurer dive course. 9 dives later, I decided to take a break from diving and have a relaxing day. Sadly Danny, our German girl left for Bangkok to meet her friend. Unfortunately I couldn’t do strenuous exercise or have a massage, one has to wait 12 hours after diving to ensure all the nitrogen has been purged from the body. I decided to go get some souvenirs from Sairee village and did some shopping along the two lane village.

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Sairee Village
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Pretty bird at Sairee Village

After shopping, the Canadians and myself decided to try out some stand up paddling or SUP for short. For 200THB, we rented some SUP boards and went for a paddle. I picked it up straight away (no bragging) and found it funny watching the Canadians, these big football players, stumble and fall into the water. To be fair, I had done other board sports and lots of kayaking experience under my belt so joining the two sports into stand up paddling wasn’t a large stretch.

There was a lot of trying to push other people into the water and some SUP jousting going on as we rammed the boards at each other. At one point we even straddled two boards with one leg on each board and paddled this joined mega board. Definitely worth the 200THB.

After that I chilled out at the resort until yoga class at 5pm at Shambhala yoga on the main street which cost me 300THB for 1.5hrs. It was the first time I had done yoga and it was an interesting experience especially when the instructor started folding her torso over her head. Up for the challenge I attempted to do the same and was surprised I could do it as we performed the shoulder stand and then progressed to fold ourselves in half. The numerous downward dogs did get very repetitive however but glad to have finally been exposed to the world of yoga.

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Day seven on Ko Tao! I heard the visibility in the water was clearing up and I signed up for two afternoon fun dives, also convincing another to join me! A fun dive is… Our first afternoon dive was towards the other side of the island to a place called Laem Thian bay as the visibility on the other side of the island was hoped to be better. Indeed it was, with 7m of visibility for the shallower parts of the dives and going down to 4m as we got deeper. Unique to Laem Thian bay was  the unicorn fish which the other divers saw but I sadly missed.

We also saw a banded boxer shrimp and swam into a cave which was swell. It was incredibly odd watching the bubbles from our regulators flow up to the roof of the cave and get stuck reminding you how amazing the experience of the underwater world is once again.

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Banded Boxer Shrimp
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Inside the underwater cave

Our second dive took us to Hin Wong Pinnacle (an underwater pinnacle) with around the same sort of visibility. We had our recently graduated dive master take us and the challenge was for him to find a swim through. The entrance to the swim through was incredibly small and entirely miss-able and I was left wondering who found it in the first place, a tiny man sized hole between two rocks our dive master had to point it out to us!

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The tiny swim through

 

There was a Muay Thai fight on this fateful Thursday night and I had been wanting to watch one, it was on my list of things to do in Thailand. For 400THB, we watched traditional Thai kickboxing with the first match being two kids fighting each other, second match two women fighting and a match with two men. After watching one of the men get knocked out cold, we were getting bored and decided to head over to Diza bar. Got hammered with my first “bucket”, literally a bucket of vodka and mixer for 200THB. A very quick way to get drunk, partied and then went back to die on my bed.

Day eight, my final day on Ko Tao, I signed up for the morning fun dives (yay 6am wakeups) and the night one as well. The visibility had been slowly improving over the last couple of days and I was determined to get some good dives into this trip. The 6am morning dive was about an hour out on boat to the best dive site around Ko Tao called Chumpon Pinnacle.

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The many coloured Christmas tree worms

This dive alone made up for all the other dives with bad visibility. Although it was still on the lower end with 5-10m, marine life here was so bountiful. I was determined to see huge schools of barracudas on this trip and I was not disappointed as we were surrounded by a large school that circled us at one point. The corals and rocks were splayed with anemones, more than I had seen in all the other dives combines, they were just everywhere and it was beautiful. We saw a pair of moray eels hiding in a crevice, a tiny mantis boxer shrimp and large schools of trevally and fusiliers!

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School of barracudas
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Pair of Moray eels
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So many anemones!!!

The second morning dive we headed back closer to the island to a site called Hin Pee Wee where the Thai navy had donated a ship to be sunk for diving purposes, the HTMS Sattakut. One of the other divers in our group had already seen the wreck 3 times on this trip and our DM (dive master) decided then to just explore the reef areas instead as this site was good for macro life including scorpion fish and nudibranchs. I was a little sad as I had wanted to dive a wreck.

 

The night dive was again to White Rock, this time with slightly better visibility than the last night dive. We saw a heap of blue spotted sting rays, a blotched porcupine fish which was fascinating, same old giant groupers and hermit crabs and my favouritely named marine creature the Pseudobiceros Hancockanus. Yes, you read that right. Hancockanus. Which is just another nudibranch (pretty sea slug) which are incredibly tiny and hard to find.

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Blotched porcupine fish from wikimedia

At night there were only two of the original sixteen of us remaining and we went for dinner at one of the cheaper local places that I wish I knew about before arriving on the island. We met some other travelers after dinner at the restaurant-bar and hung out with them for the rest of the night. Going for a walk along the beach, we headed towards the nightly fire shows which included skillful displays of fire poi and fire staff where the spinners would catch the poi with their feet and do all sorts of amazing tricks. There was also flaming skipping rope that travelers were encouraged to try, which I did after a couple of drinks and singed the hairs of my left knee when I made an embarrassing stack. I had a go at fire poi as well which was fun, I’ve done some LED poi but never fire, and ended up smacking myself with the flaming balls a few times leaving a few carbon marks on various limbs.

The remaining two of us then headed back to our dorms for the somber last night on the beautiful island of Ko Tao and wish we never woke up to leave this island 😦

My experience on Ko Tao was an absolutely amazing one, it is a spellbinding place and everyone was definitely affected by the small island charm. We ate, dived, hung out and partied together for a whole week. Many of us echoed sentiments to come back and do a dive master course as many of the other instructors at the resort had done. I met instructors and dive masters who had given up their teaching and investment banking jobs to come live on Ko Tao! Perhaps that might even be me too in the near future 🙂 Either way, I fully intend to return to Ko Tao in the future, I absolutely loved it there, the island itself is like any other tropical island (viewpoints, hiking etc…) and the beaches sub-par (compared to Australia) but the atmosphere, ambience, people and underwater world are what really make Ko Tao this magical sphere in the Gulf of Thailand.

Note: I was a bit upset that all my footage is incredibly green hued, would definitely consider getting some sort of red filter next time to bring the colour back! Also whilst I was on Ko Tao, two people lost their GoPros to the ocean while diving, make sure you mount it AND tether it to yourself so you still hang on to it in case your mount fails!

 

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